DALLAS — Backup goalie Aaron Dell is going to play a key role for the San Jose Sharks during a four-game road trip that includes a pair of back-to-backs this week.
And it comes at a time where the Sharks are being heavily pursued in the Pacific Division.
San Jose has a four-point lead on the Anaheim Ducks for first in the division, while the Calgary Flames and even the Edmonton Oilers are within striking distance. All three of those teams have put together nice runs lately, including a notable 2-1 win for the Ducks against the Sharks this past Saturday.
That’s why Sharks coach Pete DeBoer rebuffed any thoughts of resting skaters over the final 11 games of the season.
“We’re trying to catch the teams ahead of us and we’re trying to keep the teams behind us at bay,” Deboer said. “In this league you fight right until the last game of the season to give yourself the easiest path to the playoffs.”
While he won’t rest skaters, DeBoer does need to manage his goalies. That’s why Dell is starting Monday against the Stars, and go-to No. 1 Martin Jones is expected to play against the Minnesota Wild on Tuesday. DeBoer didn’t reveal his plans for the second back-to-back, but it’s likely both goalies will play at least two games on the road trip.
It’s a role that’s fit Dell well this season. In 16 games he has a 10-4-1 record, 1.90 goals against average, and 0.936 save percentage. He doesn’t qualify for the NHL leaderboard because of playing time, but he would be the NHL’s leader in save percentage if he did.
Dell has taken an unconventional path to the NHL, and it started about 45 minutes north of American Airlines Center, where Dell won a championship at the double-A level in a league that doesn’t exist anymore.
So on Monday morning Dell took a minute to reflect on his first start in Northern Texas since he was a minor-leaguer with the Allen Americans.
“It’s pretty cool, I know the area a little bit,” Dell said. “I haven’t really been back since I’ve been there, so this is nice.”
Dell was an undrafted free agent out of North Dakota when he signed with Allen in the then Central Hockey League, which folded in 2014. He was a key part of the Americans’ 2013 CHL title, the first of a string of four championships for Allen that has spanned over two leagues (two in the CHL, two in the ECHL).
“It was a good start for me, it was kind of during the (2012-13 NHL) lockout, so I wasn’t really expecting a whole lot as far as interest,” Dell said. “I kind of started there the same way I kind of started every other place, I was kind of splitting time and I ended up taking over there at the end and got to win a championship in the Central Hockey League.”
Dell eventually earned an NHL contract with San Jose, who is affiliated with the Americans, and played 12 games with Allen during the 2014-15 season. He spent all of last season in the AHL before grabbing his NHL back-up role this season.
Now, Dell’s play down the stretch could be the difference between being the division’s No.1 seed or No.2 seed.